Day 18: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October
Directed and Co-Written by Jennifer Lynch
1 hour, 38 minutes
I watched it on Shudder.
This was a rich one. Not only is it a twisty road, it’s so full of social issues and harsh realities, it’s almost weighed down by them. But Jennifer Lynch keeps her high wire act going. This thing is a major ensemble; there are something like six main characters and probably ten more. Special shout out to Caroline Aaron for giving the most vivid, hilarious, empathetic performance as Janet, the police station receptionist. All of them well-realized, superbly acted and almost none of them are as they seem when first introduced. I can only imagine her corkboard of index cards or the like to track all of this.
As you may have guessed (or obviously already knew), Jennifer Lynch is the daughter of David Lynch and has continued the family tradition of odd but fascinating storytelling. In addition to this film, she directed the notorious “Boxing Helena,” “Chained,” a ton of shorts and so much TV, including “American Horror Story,” “Salem,” and “Jessica Jones.”
The kills in “Surveillance” feel so realistic and disturbing. There’s a strangling toward the end that hit me so hard. It was almost too ewww. I was so with these characters by then and that moment was so drawn out that it felt maybe too real. The opening sequence is so startling and loud, I had to turn the sound down, lest I traumatize my sleeping child. It didn’t get as into the true crime, investigative vibe as I had expected but the movie I got was so much more thoughtful and messed up.
A big running theme here is police abuse. She’s quite explicit about how cruel the police in this small town can be. I’m trying so hard to be spoiler free in this one because a big bunch of what works here is how she doles out her surprises. She’s delicate and smart about revealing new bits about her characters throughout, so it isn’t exactly some big “Sixth Sense” type twist.
So here goes my best attempt to tell you a little without ruining anything. In a small town, a woman (Pell James), a young girl (Ryan Simpkins) and some police officers (Charlie Newmark and Gill Gayle) are interviewed by the FBI (Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman) about a mass murder that they survived. The FBI agents use a bank of surveillance cameras to help them with the interviewing process, hence the title. We see the course of events of that day via extensive flashbacks, so it’s not a chamber piece where we’re just watching these interviews. Now that could be cool but it’s not this movie.
It’s no wonder the FBI was called in. The local police are just this side of the “Last House On the Left” buffoons. At least, that’s how they are presented at first. The reality is much darker, but somehow more casual and banal than the big baddies that come along. These everyday horrors of police brutality, sexual harassment and assault, and drug addiction were already enough. You spend so much of the movie waiting to find out who did this mass killing and the killings that came before this town, only to discover along the way that the horrors in this town started before that big, scary white van showed up.